Johnny Carson was the undisputed king, of course. If you thought otherwise, you had better whisper it in dark corners so no one could hear you, especially Carson himself. After all it was rumored that he could squash you like bug if you crossed him, just ask Joan Rivers. Johnny was cool, sophisticated, and funniest when he messed up. He was also rumored to be a mean alcoholic as well as a recluse, but then you find out that he secretly spent millions in Africa doing charity work. Go figure.
Pre-Johnny there was Steve Allen, the multi-talented performer who started it all. He was a perfect fit for the early days of television in the fifties. Then came the mercurial Jack Parr, who twitched and fussed visibly in front of the camera, but also was one of the best interviewers ever. It was almost like his jumpiness put his guests at ease. They had to be for his sake. He walked off over a water closet (toilet) joke, and then tried to make a short-lived comeback, but it just didn’t feel right.
To me, all the other “hosts” were just footnotes. Merv Griffin, Joey Bishop, and Mike Douglas were just too bland, too bland for an era that was moving away from such sleep-inducing presentations. Then there were all of the daytime hosts, with Oprah sitting on top of her huge pile of cash, bribing her star-struck audiences with free cheap cars. There is actually a website now where you have to join and pay a fee just to contact the show, or the book club, not sure which. But we’re just going to stick with the late night stuff right now.
Now let’s fast forward to the current crop of late night hosts. There’s Fallon, Kimmel, Letterman, Conan, Meyers, and my favorite Craig Ferguson. To me Jimmy Fallon is the perfect replacement for Leno. Both kiss up to their guests so hard that they have to be leaving the show with big hickies on their posteriors.
Letterman used to be my favorite when he was on NBC. In his younger days, he was cutting edge, inventive, and fresh; almost drowning in a vat of Alka-Seltzer and sticking himself to a wall covered with Velcro. Now, he’s just a crabby old man relying on the Top Ten List as his pretty much only comedy mainstay. Yeah, there’s occasionally the Stupid Dog Tricks, but the enthusiasm has just drained out of it all.
I’m not really familiar that much with Seth Meyers. I did like him on Saturday Night Live, but who watches that anymore? Kimmel does an alright job, sometimes pleasant, sometimes snarky, but nothing I’d want to stay up late for. I liked Conan at first. His monologues are still funny, but he is so self-absorbed. He always steers the conversation back to himself, even if it’s self-deprecating. “Hey Conan, I just ski jumped down a 10,000 ft. crevasse!” Instead of asking how terrifying it was or some other reasonable question, instead he’ll say something like: “You know, if I tried that I’d probably break my neck!” Then he would blabber on about being put in the ambulance and blah, blah blah. And what’s up with the hair? He’d look better with a crew cut and a beard.
Now, I know I’m kind of leaving out Arsenio. He seems like a nice guy, but I just wish that it would have been Eddie that’s all. THAT I would have watched.
That leaves Craig Ferguson. I know he’s been on for a long time, but I just started watching him recently. To be honest, at first I thought it was really stupid. Really, a Scottish guy who dances between commercials like Ellen, has a robot for a sidekick, a non-existent band, and a dancing fake horse? But there were a couple of funny spots and he’s a big Dr. Who fan and that’s a plus. So, I watched it a second time and a third and now it’s every night. I even like the theme song which always perks me up and then gets stuck in my head. “Tomorrow’s just the future yesterday.”
I can’t figure out whether Craig is superstitious or OC, but he does the same little ritual every night at the opening; throwing candy out into the audience, knocking on the camera, and giving all the viewers plenty of face time right up into the camera. The amazing thing is that it never seems to get old. Ferguson just seems like the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with in a Scottish pub. (Yeah, Geof the robot can come along.) And he’s intelligent, a decent interviewer, and a fair singer and dancer to boot. I’ve never seen an author on his show though. Maybe he just wants to keep it moving at its usual frantic pace. Or, maybe he just doesn’t want to read all of the books.
So, if you’ve never watched the show or you did and didn’t like what you saw, watch it again. Watch it a few more times after that. The only problem with that is Craig’s always talking that he likes being an unknown since if the network doesn’t even know he’s there, they can’t fire him.